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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Defining Chutney Music

An article, or rather, two articles in About.com, by Megan Romer has prompted me to clarify chutney music and soca. No offense to the writer, but I have read many articles that carry a misconception of what exactly is chutney music, and in this instance, the same goes for soca. Research usually clarifies such dubiousness. Chutney music must not be confused with chutney soca, nor should soca be confused with calypso and classical Indian music. These are completely different genres and researchers must invest time to know the difference.




Chutney music is a combination of traditional Indian music, soca and calypso …” states Romer in an article titled Chutney Music 101 (About.com). It is nothing of the sort. Authentic chutney music is a fast-paced rhythm produced by the dholak, dhantal and the harmonium, three traditional Indian music instruments. It's a beat of a different hand, like they say in tassa, and incorporates neither soca nor calypso, although some articles purport to that. In the early days the umuree was used, but not any more. As I explained in my welcome above, one has to experience chutney music to truly appreciate it.
Similarly, soca is a blend of calypso and Indian rhythms, indigenous to Trinidad and Tobago and not classical Indian music as stated in the Soca 101 article: "Soca is a blend of traditional calypso and classial Indian Music." There is a difference between classical Indian music and Indian rhythms in Trinidad. Classical Indian music originated in India as a religious artform to such dances as bharatnatyam, khatak and other similar dances. Trinidad has its own Indian rhythms composed by local music bands. And that combined with the calypso produces an infectious, party music called soca. With respect to chutney soca, it is a combination of soca and chutney music.
How do I know this? I was born in chutney country, my deceased grand-father having sang the same daily sitting on a phall spread on the freshly leepayed ground under the house, and me, a toddler trying to stick my fingers into the folds of the harmonium while he played and sang with his eyes closed. And of course, his companions gathered around him, one of them beating the dhantal, a straight steel rod  with another piece of steel shaped like a U, and yet another on the dholak, the oval-shaped instrument clamped beneath one knee, his finger, eight of them, slapping the goat skin covers to produce a sharp basslike sound. He too, at one time, had performed on Mastana Bahar, as a soloist, not placing but winning admiration from friends. And such is my connection with chutney, as well as chutney soca, calypso, soca, steel pan and everything cultural that originated in Trinidad.
Hopefully, many will read this excerpt and chutney music will be defined appropriately.

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